Joel Raney is an incredible pianist and composer. He is part of the editorial staff at Hope Publishing Company, has studied piano and organ at the University of North Alabama, and has his Master of Music in piano performance from The Juilliard School of Music. We are thankful Joel took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.
When did you begin in music? Sometime between learning to walk, and learning to read…I really don’t remember not being in music. I grew up on the piano bench… an old Story and Clark upright, pounding out things I heard, and playing the hymns in boogie-woogie style, which my mother absolutely hated!
Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician? Several, actually. The first was at age 14, winning the North Alabama State Fair talent competition with my rendition of “Alabama Jubilee” on the Hammond organ. I took my shoes off, wore red socks, and did a little pedal solo that killed. Then a few years later, I was playing my first Bach 2-part invention, when suddenly, both hands started working, almost as if by magic, on their own. Wow, that was a great feeling I’ll never forget. Crossing that first bridge to a new level. That’s when I started actually getting serious.
What kind of things inspire you? People inspire me. Memories inspire me. Nature inspires me. My wife and kids inspire me. Just waking up in the morning and realizing I have another day, and another chance to create something… that inspires me. Sometimes that inspiration doesn’t last long, but I usually start the day with it!
What inspired you to become a composer? It just happened gradually. Performing and improvising leads to arranging, which leads to composing.
What would you say defines your style? I’m still working on that, but there are three kinds of music that I love, and I guess they all find their way into my writing. 1: Classical, of course. Three years and a masters from Juilliard, and listening to hours and hours of the masterworks…that has an impact. 2: Film scores. I love hearing how the music actually directs the emotion; the same is true of musical theater, which is also a passion. 3: Southern soul and gospel. Listening to Ted Smith and others play that evangelical piano, and playing in a rural church.
Tell me one thing that people might not know about you. I’m married to one of the best singers you’ll ever hear. She’s got a lot of soul, and sells a song better than anyone I’ve ever heard. When she sings a ballad, I usually can’t get through it without dripping a tear or two on the keyboard. Oh, and I performed in Pump Boys and Dinettes in Chicago for a couple of years where I wore red cowboy boots, and tap-danced while playing the accordion and singing a song about having a farmer tan.
What are you working on now? A gospel chorale for SATB and children’s choir, a handbell setting of “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,” an arrangement to close our church Christmas program, and a jingle for Rent-a-Center.
What is your all time favorite choral piece (by another composer)? Impossible question to answer. “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Rutter; “A Jubilant Song” by Dello Joio; Eric Whitacre’s “Cloudburst“; Rutter’s “Te Deum“; “Hear My Prayer” by Mendelssohn.
Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing? Listen to everything you can, study with whomever you can, and pray for a way to earn a living.
Would you say that music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration? One or the other…never in between.
What are your favorite texts to set to music? Psalms, and anything about peace.
What is your favorite thing about composing? Being creative is, in my opinion, what connects us with our creator.
Quickfire Questions (partially stolen from James Lipton on Inside the Actors’ Studio)
1. What is your favorite word? Hope
2. What is your least favorite word? Can’t
3. What sound or noise do you love? A baby giggling
4. What sound or noise do you hate? Anyone talking loudly on a cell phone in public
5. What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt? Being a chef
6. What is your favorite composition? Whatever I just finished
7. What is on your iPod? Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, the complete piano works of Chopin, John Rutter, Eric Whitacre, Ray Charles, The Messiah, Andreas Wolenweider, dozens of film scores, Stephen Sondheim…
8. Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet? I’m open to anyone.
9. If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would it be? Mozart… because there’s a lot of it, and lots of it is cheerful, and I’d need a lot of cheering up.
Joel is a talented, gracious person and a gifted composer. If you have the chance to attend a concert that he is performing in or a workshop that he is giving, RUN, don’t walk to get there. And Joel, thank you for your time!